Yeah I think mp3s sound pretty weak just sonically - but that’s cool, it doesn’t really matter, you don’t have to have killer fidelity to have a transformative experience. my home set-up is really modest and small-time - but I think performances and compositions are generally stronger than the violence done to them (or the boost given them!) by various forms of compression. but having said that, for me, analog compression really does seem to make a song jump, and mp3 compression pretty much always makes it sound worse, considerably worse. takes the bite out of a song a lot of the time. (again, that’s “to me.”) my source for this is that when we make a record I hear the finished tracks in the following formats: 1) rough mixes, full size, first coming direct from 2” tape through studio monitors and then mixed to wav through home speakers & headphones; 2) final mixes in both wav and aac or mp3; 3) mastered mixes in wav and aac/mp3. I’m able to a/b the bigger files with the smaller ones; there’s just no comparison. straight off the tape through the studio monitors always sounds better than anything down the line, though the idea in mastering is to get as close as possible to the ideal. the smaller ones just don’t sound as good. it’s not that they sound TOTALLY AWFUL as some audiophiles hear (I accept that it sounds awful to them and I think it’s not really for anybody to say to anyone “you don’t actually hear what you say you hear”) but I do think that most people, given the opportunity to listen to multiple sizes of a given track, would find the pre-mp3 sizes sounding better.
I don’t know about affecting emotional experiences etc., anything on that front is going to be anecdotal. I enjoy listening to vinyl more than listening to other formats, but I listen to plenty of mp3s/aacs. 95% of my Amy Grant collection was bought from iTunes and some of those songs saved my life. In that format. Partly because it was portable, so I could be about to drop through the floor into what felt like no-turning-back depression in a friend’s apartment in Greenpoint and grab my laptop and listen to “Nothing is Beyond You” and get enough relief to stand up and face the day. That’s a profound experience to have and it wouldn’t have been possible without these swirly-sounding portable compressed files. It’s the music that counts in the end. I think anybody trying to make a sweeping “here’s the truth!” or “that there is bullshit!” claim about something as subjective as listening to music is probably posing: but I do think, if you ever get the opportunity to A/B compressed files vs. uncompressed files (I don’t know if “uncompressed” is technically what I mean there, but I mean wavs or aiffs) of the same track through the same speakers or headphones, you’ll usually hear the bigger file as being a lot better. You’ll also probably enjoy it more through a better system, but I mean…music’s fucking amazing, you can hear it through a wall and still get your life changed by it, it’s a lot bigger than compression rates.